Encrypted Text: Rogue leveling vs. raiding
When we did our first Encrypted Text Q&A column last month, you all asked a lovely variety of questions. You also asked some real doozies — questions I didn’t think I could answer quickly and still do them justice.
This is one of them (apologies to whoever asked it; I’ve lost the info identifying you!):
I loved this question, because it drove directly to one of the key aspects of playing a rogue that I’ve long found dissonant: That leveling a rogue feels completely different than raiding as one.
My Rogue Journey
It took me 14 months to get my first rogue (who was also my first WoW character) to max level. It wasn’t from a lack of commitment to the game; in those 14 months, I logged nearly 34 days of /played time. I spent 8% of my life during that year living vicariously through my night elf ninja.
At the time — this was during the Wrath of the Lich King expansion — the level cap was 80. In the time it took me to level a single character, I watched players around me level a whole stable of them. I rarely played alongside others for long; they leveled past me too quickly. Even though I joined various guilds along the way from 1 to 80, my rogue’s journey to max level was a pretty isolated experience.
And I loved it.
WoW was the first MMO I ever played, and I was quickly awestruck by both Azeroth’s beauty and its sheer size. (At the time, we couldn’t obtain our first mount until Level 30 — at just 160% movement speed — and there was no such thing as flying in Azeroth.) I surrendered hours of my life to Next Hill Syndrome: the irresistible desire to explore just a little bit farther, to complete just one more section of the map, to wade into Azeroth’s vast shores and swim just around that bend. And that one. And that one. And definitely that one, but then I’ll stop. OK, and maybe that one too.
I didn’t know it at the time, but my choice to play a rogue turned out to be the perfect one for me. My love for exploration of this gorgeous new virtual world meshed perfectly with my fierce desire to do so on my own terms — where I wanted, when I wanted and how I wanted. If I was careful, I could stealth through areas bristling with enemies 10 or more levels above me without an electronic soul registering my presence. And I loved the feeling that I was somehow “breaking the rules” when I got a quest to assassinate an NPC at the bottom of a deep cave, and I could simply stealth my way there and dispatch it without having to engage anyone else.
When I did engage mobs, it was with the knowledge that I had a belt filled with tools I could use to confuse, evade and disable my enemies, as well as a way to beat a tactical retreat whenever I got in too deep. I never felt more like a rogue than when I was leveling one.
Then I reached Level 80. And everything changed.
At the time I first hit max level, I happened to be part of a casual-but-capable raiding guild. Intimidated and overwhelmed by the concept of extremely challenging “heroic” dungeons (I was no hero! I knew nothing, Jon Snow!), but still fascinated by what the experience might hold in store, I eagerly joined my guild as they shepherded me through dungeon after dungeon, and I learned the intricacies of gearing, enchanting, gemming, selecting the best talent tree, executing a DPS rotation and generally learning how to play my class the “correct” way for group play against big bad bosses.
In the process, stealth lost most of its value and all of its mystery. Exploration became a thing of the past, and no longer could I sneak my way to a key enemy and dispatch it using elusiveness and guile. Instead, stealth became little more than a soulless tool I used to squeeze out one extra drop of DPS by positioning myself close to the boss for the pull, or to periodically gain a fleeting damage buff. Similarly, most of my toolkit became useless, except as a means to perform exactly the same role as any number of other classes: stun that trash mob, distract that one, interrupt that spell cast.
Between all of that and the messy clutter that is the melee DPS experience — massive bosses, tight crowd of fellow raiders (and their pets), and a visual cacophony of spell effects all conspiring to make it extremely difficult to see my own character, much less the spells I’m trying to execute — the joy I felt when playing my rogue began to slip away into the shadows.
New expansions brought a brief return to my leveling experience, and for a time I’d rediscover those old pleasures. My sporadic ventures into daily questing also kept some of that bygone pleasure alive, though little exploration remained to help me offset those grinds. But even those returns were fleeting: Raid tiers seem to pile up relentlessly for the motivated casual raider, a perpetual series of challenges to overcome (even during long patch cycles). The first year of my rogue experience was all about leveling; most of the years since have been about raiding.
For a long time, I lamented the loss of that feeling of “being” a rogue. I would sigh wistfully as I thought back on relatively pointless features like the Spirit Traps in the first few rooms of Icecrown Citadel — which, when tripped, would summon massive Ancient Skeletal Soldiers, but which a rogue could disarm, allowing the raid to skip those mobs. (In actuality, many raid groups preferred to trip the alarms, since killing the skeletons granted reputation that ultimately rewarded better gear.) I would try to imagine ways in which the experience of fighting a boss could be made to feel more “roguelike” — such as louder and flashier abilities that would stand out amidst the din.
Raid-Yin and Level-Yang
But then, not too long ago, I realized something. When I transitioned from leveling into raiding, what I lost as a rogue player I gained as a member of my raid team. The whole point of raiding is to sacrifice something of your individuality, and to work as part of a group toward achieving a greater goal. It’s almost the polar opposite of the rogue questing experience. When I raid, I’m surrounded visually and audibly — both on the screen and on Mumble — by nine or more other players, all the time. I enjoy the joking, the camaraderie, the intensity, the rush of accomplishment when we down a new boss; there’s even something warm and communally supportive in the deflating sense of group frustration we all feel when we fall short.
I’ve been very fortunate to have been a part of some wonderful raid groups in the years I’ve been playing WoW — people with whom I’ve genuinely bonded, whose voices I look forward to hearing every week, and who have helped me find joy in the gaming experience that I’ve never felt while leveling alone.
Leveling and raiding: They each have their place, and the combination of the two — the ability to feel like a rogue when I’m questing, and the ability to feel like Scott the button masher when I’m hacking away at a boss’s shins — is part of what keeps me coming back to WoW month after month, expansion after expansion. That combination of experiences certainly isn’t ideal for everyone. But for those of you who ask, “What’s the most important aspect of becoming comfortable as a raiding rogue?” my answer is: Letting go of the rogue fantasy for a while, and embracing a different side of yourself.
That’s only my answer, though — I bet many of you have other views on the subject. Let’s hear ’em!
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